Chris Ronayne presented his now wife, Natalie, with an engagement ring while they stood in the rain in New York City’s Central Park. The rest, however, is pure Cleveland. Their first kiss was at Public Square, their wedding at Old Stone Church and their reception at Grays Armory. Married in 2002, the Ronaynes have worked separately and together to make Cleveland a better place for everyone.
Since 2005, Chris has been president of University Circle Inc., the influential nonprofit that unites the area’s educational, medical and cultural institutions. He also is board chair of Canalway Partners. The organization’s mission is to create a park system that follows the historic Towpath Trail along the route of the Ohio Canal.
As Cleveland Metroparks’ chief development officer since 2016, Natalie leads the organization’s individual, community, foundation and government fundraising initiatives. She launched the Emerald Necklace giving program, helping to increase park support. The Ronaynes have two children and live on Cleveland’s West Side.
Two Places at Once: “We try to do things together as much as we can. But the reality is that sometimes we both have places we need to be. I don’t like not being at his side, and he doesn’t like missing things I need to do,” says Natalie. The couple rely on an ever-changing weekly plan, plotting activities, from who gets the kids to school and who walks the dogs to major work and volunteer commitments. The only time there is minor friction, says Natalie, is when communication isn’t complete.
Timing Transitions: A couple should not be in separate major transitions at the same time. Whether it’s a career change or a personal one, it’s better for a marriage if one lane change by one person is happening at a time, says Natalie. “Community work, which is what we do, is a team sport,” says Chris. “Things pop up. You have to have patience with each other. If there weren’t two of you, things would be a lot harder to handle.”
The Big Picture: “Natalie taught me the importance of family and how to focus on that first,” says Chris, who coaches both of his children’s hockey teams and considers the four-decade relationship he’s had with the Serpentini Arena-Winterhurst in Lakewood to be the longest association he’s had in Cleveland. “Also, the death of my father left me with a certain appreciation of what matters in life. Don’t let those small interruptions of life get you down. In the big picture, life is a gift, and you are here only so many days. When you lose a loved one, it gives you a different perspective.”
“Chris taught me loyalty. And we both taught each other forgiveness,” says Natalie. (She also taught her husband that just because something is relaxing to him, it may not be to her. Did someone say “golf?”)
Mutual Admiration Society: “Natalie can do what I do with one hand behind her back in half the time. She’s smart and strong willed. And, she shoulders more of our everyday responsibilities,” says Chris, who changed diapers when their kids were babies. “But, not as many as I did,” says Natalie. “Chris is a magnet of energy, enthusiasm and positive energy,” says Natalie. “He fills up a room.”
Little Things Count: They don’t share toothbrushes except on occasion while on vacation and Chris forgets his. “But now, Natalie usually packs an extra one,” says Chris.